Finding military child care as a family is no easy feat. While your old high school or college friends may have a grandparent or other relatives living nearby to fill in the gap, you as a military spouse will likely have no such back-up plan.
In fact, according to the latest Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey, fully two-thirds of military families felt that they could not reliably find the child care they need. That is an astonishing number!
With a new school year approaching and perhaps a new job for you if you’ve recently PCS’ed, you may not know where to begin when it comes to finding reliable, safe care for your kids. Let’s take a look at some options. And stay tuned, because there’s even a program created to help offset costs for military families that you may not know about!
Child Development Centers (CDCs)
This is the resource most military families are already familiar with. Located on a military installation and sponsored by the DoD, CDCs offer child care for children aged 6 weeks to 5 years. (Fun fact: CDCs are the largest employer sponsored child care in the U.S.) Facilities range in size, and many have lengthy waiting lists. Fees are set on a sliding scale according to total family income. All CDC programs are certified by the Department of Defense and accredited by a national accrediting body. Many military families prefer using a CDC for convenience, as some locations offer extended hours, weekend care, and respite care.
Family Child Care (FCC)
Family child care providers operate out of private homes in military housing, government leased housing, or state licensed homes in the community. FCCs must adhere to strict guidelines, and regulations limit how many children an FCC provider may have at one time. The provider is required to be certified by the installation with their home subject to inspection, as well as be accredited by the National Association of Family Child Care.
School Age Care Programs (SAC)
School aged programs administer care for before and after school and during non-school days or holidays for children in kindergarten through 6th grade. These can take place at youth centers, CDCs, or other facilities.
How to Register for On-Base Childcare
If your preference is to use child care on a military installation, visit Military Child Care to learn about programs in your area, find out about availability, and register for an account. You’re able to manage your child care requests, view your spot on wait lists, and even stay on a wait list for a preferred program while accepting care from another. A helpful list of answers for FAQ’s as well as a toll-free number are easily accessed on the site.
Child Care Affordability
If you don’t have access to on-base child care, check out Child Care Aware, which offers fee assistance programs for all branches of the service. While there are stipulations as to number of minimum hours and other requirements, Child Care Aware has a goal of supporting “all branches of the military in their commitment to providing quality, affordable, community-based child care for all military families.” Child Care Aware also supports respite care for special needs families, as well as programs for families of wounded and fallen military.
Tips for Vetting a Child Care Provider
No matter what you end up choosing, there are some tips you’ll want to follow when selecting a child care situation. (Get even more expert tips from Parent Magazine.)
1. Observe. Observe the staff and make sure they are actually on the ground/down low, engaging with the children in their charge. How do they interact with the children? How are rooms laid out? Is there enough space for play and plenty of age-appropriate toys and books?
2. What’s the overall philosophy? What is the discipline policy? Is it positive? Scolding?
3. Ratio. What is the caregiver/child ratio? Is the facility adhering to state guidelines?
4. Pop in. Drop by at random times to observe caregivers, the environment, and how your child is doing.
5. Trust your gut. If something feels off, move on.
6. Don’t be afraid to switch. If you need a different environment or a change for whatever reason, do what is best for your family.
For more information on military child care programs, visit Military OneSource to view a collection of resources for military families, including articles, webinars, and podcasts.